A Recommended Retreat by Lake Naivasha

If I want to get away for a few days to concentrate on a writing job, I know a place – Camp Carnelly’s, by Lake Naivasha. Beyond the hotels and lodges along Moi South Lake Road, it’s got just the right blend of simplicity and comfort, isolation and company, wilderness and civilisation.

True to its name, Carnelly’s is somewhere you can camp. You can put up your tent by the lake shore and under the shade of the tall acacias. But if it’s comfort you want, then you should opt for one of the bandas, set back among the trees but still with a view to the waters.

The bandas are pleasantly rustic, plastered in a pale ochre colour, and with a small cushioned veranda. Inside, there is nothing fancy. But, apart from the double bed – and there are two other single beds in each room – the main comfort is the en-suite bathroom. I reckon it’s no fun having to tramp across the dew-wetted grass by torchlight to find the loos. And talking of light, there are electric lights and a power point in each banda. There is solar heating, too – which means hot showers.

And you wake up knowing that there is a cooked breakfast waiting for you along at the splendid restaurant and bar, because it is included in the Ksh.8,000 you have paid for the banda. And this is very good value, isn’t it, especially if there are four of you sharing the banda?

So there’s the balance between isolation and company. If you want to be alone, you can stay in your banda or take a walk along the lake shore. But when you’ve had enough of being by yourself, or need a break from whatever laptop work you are doing, then you can go along to the bar lounge for a meal, a drink, or just a chat.

The food on offer is very eclectic and tasteful. For starters, there is, for example, not a shrimp but a crayfish cocktail – for crayfish are abundant in the lake. Or you could try the Mexican-style quesadillas (heated tortillas), stuffed with chilli, red onion, herbs, green pepper, cheddar and mozzarella cheese, and served with a guacamole, avocado-based, dip.

If you are still feeling hungry then you could go on to the grilled steak kebabs, which are fillet steak marinated in garlic, soy, lemon and spices. Even the sukuma wiki and ugali are nicely spiced up – described as ‘curly kale cooked in a light onion and garlic sauce and served with maize meal’. There are many main dishes on offer – all of them Ksh.900 or less.

Camp Carnelly’s is within easy reach of other places to visit. Just a little back down the road, there’s the entrance to the Hell’s Gate National Park. This is one of the few easily-reached places where you can walk across the grassy plains, where there are herds of zebra hartebeest and antelope. (Not to worry – lions and leopards are rarely seen.) Or you can cycle – there are bikes for hire at the Elsa Gate.

But what you have to do on foot is clamber down the spectacular Ol Basta gorge, and then take a walk along the narrow ravine floor. For this you need sensible walking shoes and, because it can be very hot, some protection from the sun and a supply of water.

Talking of heat and water… in your car or on your bike, you can pay a visit to the dramatic Olkaria Geothermal Plant, which is within the park – the first productive geothermal plant in Africa. The underground temperature of the water here rises to over 300ᵒC. Somewhat cooler – at about 40ᵒ – there’s the shallow milky water of the geothermal spa where you can wallow for as long as you like.

For another kind of special treat, you can go along for afternoon tea at Elsamere back on the Moi South Lake Road and not far beyond Camp Carnelly’s. The tea is the treat – thinly cut sandwiches in fresh bread, with homemade cakes and jam tarts. You can sit out on the lawn, under the shade of some magnificent acacia trees, listening to the haunting calls of the fish eagles and watching the antics of colobus monkeys that visit the garden most days.

This was the home of Joy and George Adamson, of Elsa the Lioness and Born Free fame. The manager of the house will show you a documentary about Joy’s life and achievements; though it, understandably, avoids commenting on the strain of her marriage with the long-suffering George – it seems it was a marriage where there was little joy of Joy.

Whatever their disagreements and separations (they eventually chose to live and work in different game parks, George in Kora and Joy in Meru) they both contributed a tremendous amount to the conservation of wildlife. And you can see a record of this in a room set aside for showing off their books and other fascinating memorabilia of the Adamsons.

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation